Towson: Kids in a Toy Store

February 19, 1991

Five of the seven members of the current Baltimore County Council are novices. It shows. In their eagerness to leave their mark on the legislative process, these new county lawmakers are like kids in a toy store. One almost hears them marvel, "Gee, you mean we can pass legislation on just about anything?"

One of those just-about-anything bills will come up for a vote today. Introduced by Councilmen William A. Howard IV, R-6th, and Donald Mason, D-7th, the bill would make it illegal for elected officials to have their pictures included in county publications. Violators would have to reimburse the county for the cost of the printed material.

The originators of this bill justify it as a "judicious use of all county resources, especially in times of economic downturn."

We, too, are against "waste or self-aggrandizement," as the bill puts it. But why would a councilman want to clutter the law books with such a frivolous nuisance measure?

This is not the first time Baltimore County's new council has wasted taxpayers' time and money in nit-picking. Recently, it spent hours in a well-motivated but futile discussion of whether Baltimore County should conform with a state law that increased the maximum number of children permitted in day-care homes from six to eight. "It could be that eight is too many," Councilman Howard opined, insisting on further study -- even though the county must obey state statutes regardless of Mr. Howard's feelings.

It is good that council members want to understand the issues they are dealing with. But if they insist on studying elemental matters (which they should have known about before their election), they will become micro-managers and lose sight of wider policy issues. Unless the council picks its priorities, it will get bogged down at budget time -- when it must do its most important work, and when voluminous documents must be reviewed and examined in a relatively short time.

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